SCHUMANN: Fantasie; Kreislerinana – Collard, p. – La Dolce Volta

Jean-Philippe Collard celebrates his long commitment to the passionate and fanciful works of Robert Schumann

SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17; Kreisleriana, Op. 16 – Jean-Philippe Collard, p. – La Dolce Volta LDV 30, 63:57 (1/27/17) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard (b. 1948) prefaces his recording (4-6 April 2016) with a motto from Schumann: “Sometimes bizarre things happen in the heart of man: thus joy and sorrow mingle there in a strange and motley nature.” The world of Robert Schumann conforms to this admission of duality in the nature of man, given his division of his psyche into the personae Florestan and Eusebius. Coincidentally, the Fantasie first came to me via a French pianist, Robert Casadesus, who combined its powerful emotional content with an equally adept sense of its structural power. For many years, the Kreisleriana suite “belonged” Vladimir Horowitz, whose own demons seemed to drive deeply into the labyrinths that the 1838 response to E.T.A. had elicited in Schumann. And since Collard had studied with Horowitz, this recording bears the mantle of tradition.

The Fantasie emerges at once passionate and sturdy, lyrically evocative of storms and intimate stresses in its leaps, swirling trills, and musing, poetic declamations. Intended as part of a Beethoven monument, the music attains a muscular polyphony resonant with the Bonn master’s late style – particularly his Sonata in A, Op. 101 – as well Schumann’s incursions into Bach. Collard lingers over the “legend” designated by Schumann, that aspect of “maerchen” of resolute fairy-tale whose figures speak – quite directly, by virtue of Beethoven’s song from An die ferne Geliebte – Schumann’s declarations to Clara Wieck of his uncompromised commitment to their love.

Martial, sweeping drums announce the syncopated second movement, whose dotted figures seem ready to storm the Philistine gates, which might include the doors to Father Wieck’s home. Every pianist both anticipates and fears the coda to this colossal and oft-contrapuntal march, for which pianist Sviatoslav Richter stated that the best preparation lay in closing one’s eyes. Collard’s attacks remain both precise and pointed, urging the musical line in plastic syncopes that retain the inspired fluency. Once more, a potent trill occupies a supreme place in leading us to the da capo and the mountainous coda, resolute and stirring at the same time.  Finally, for his last movement for this idiosyncratic “sonata,” Schumann takes his affect from the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, especially its series of plastic arpeggios. This movement reverts to Schumann, the preserver of “the nostalgia of the dream,” the idyll of poetic romance. Collard’s judicious pedal underlines the mystery that suffuses this music, built as it upon a line from Schlegel which celebrates a “faint, long-drawn tone” that applies to the A in this piece and a color, which might well anticipate Scriabin and his affective kinesthesis. Collard preserves the liquid tension of this sonata-movement, whose repeat and coda attain a triumph over adversity in a martial apotheosis.
Few works begin with the kind of psychic whirl ( in d minor) that Schumann’s eight-part Kreisleriana presents, a work of agonized, frustrated passion, inspired by the 1814 E.T.A. Hoffmann novel of a musician beset by the specter of madness. Five of the pieces claim Florestan as their author, while a set of three set aside compelling passion to reflect dreamily, in the manner of Eusebius. Since the opening piece found repose in B-flat Major, so does the extended second section – very inward – find solace here, even proffering a duet in two high voices. Sudden bouts of doubt, in march rhythm, plague the idyll, which just as like flowers into polyphony. Collard affects a feeling of improvisation as the figures accelerate in variation, soon offering an aria between bass and alto. The third section moves to g minor, a color that often appeals to Mendelssohn for sprites and things that go bump in the night. A temenos (sacred space) appears in B-flat Major, where Schumann can find solace – from Collard’s wonderful, colored chords – in the midst of doubts.

Section four might be construed as homage to Chopin, to whom the work is dedicated. Divided harmonically between d minor and B-flat Major, the music seems almost Proustian, both suspending and recovering lost time. Listen to the left-hand descent to the tender, melodic tissue that rises in consolation. Marked sehr lebhaft, the next, lively section impishly moves in g minor. The figurations swirl in a way that Debussy would employ when snow must dance. This music keeps ascending (into high F) and gains volume, ff.  The following, slow section pits B-flat Major against c minor, the ambivalence emphasized in Bach-like stretto. But “the soft answer turneth away wrath.” The dark forces dispel, and delicate amor seems to prevail. Wild mania ensues, c minor in wicked sixteenth notes I the bass. Does Schumann really want a fugue in the midst of all this commotion? A grand ritardando leads to a kind of choral for solace in the heart of affliction, and the movement ends. The suite ends mock-playfully, a g minor pastiche of the passing parade, much in the manner of Carnaval of the ending of the film Moulin Rouge with a dying Lautrec (Jose Ferrer). At their deepest, the thick harmonies worry with Romantic Agony, even in the face of smirking cast of characters, only to vanish, ppp, into smoke.

Fine recorded piano sound, courtesy of the engineering of Jean-Marc Lesne.

–Gary Lemco

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